How to Write the "Why Cornell" Essay

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Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education

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8 min read

How to Write the "Why Cornell" Essay

Supplemental essays are one of the most challenging parts of the college application, and Cornell University has one of the largest word counts for them: 650 words.

Although writing 650 words may seem daunting, Cornell’s prompts are some of the simplest to write for. Each school has a different prompt, but all have the same core structure: Why do you want to study your major at Cornell?

Quick Tips for the Why Cornell Essay

  • College applications are two-sided. It's not just about you, but also about them. What can you uniquely bring to Cornell? What can Cornell uniquely give to you?
  • Be specific! Is there a cool class you want to take? An awesome research lab? Research what might interest you at Cornell before beginning to write.
  • Avoid mentioning basic things like the weather, rankings, how much you enjoy the city, or how badly you want to be a Big Red Bear. These traits are overused and don’t tell the reader anything about your interests.
  • Find common values and aspirations that Cornell has, such as their “Any person, Any study” motto and how you share these same values and will contribute to the community they foster.

Below are all the prompts for Cornell University for 2022-2023. Pick yours and keep reading to learn more about how to perfect your Cornell essay!

Cornell University 2022-2023 Prompts

Find Cornell University’s prompts here.

Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Required: Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. Specifically, how will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals?

Optional (1): At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline, but who are also passionate about doing so to serve the public good. Please elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you. We encourage you to think about community broadly - this could include family, school, or local and global communities. (300-word limit)

Optional (2): The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is dedicated to the exploration of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background in agriculture or are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. (300-word limit)

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

What is your "thing"? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours?

College of Arts and Sciences

Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interests, embodying in 21st century terms Ezra Cornell’s “any person…any study” founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College.

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).

College of Engineering

Instructions: All applicants are required to write two supplemental essays. Each has a limit of 250 words. Essay 1 is required of all applicants. For Essay 2, you must choose between Question A and Question B.

Essay 1 Required response (250 word limit)

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about.

Essay 2 Choose either Question A or Question B. (250 word limit)

Question A: Describe an engineering problem that impacts your local community. This could be your school, neighborhood, town, region, or a group you identify with. Describe one to three things you might do as an engineer to solve the problem. Question B: Diversity in all forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. Engineering the best solutions to complex problems is often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from different backgrounds, lived experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity and/or the inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?

College of Human Ecology

How has your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology been influenced by your related experiences? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School.

Learn about Cornell

Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York, about 4 hours away from New York City and 1 hour from Syracuse. Ithaca is gorge-ous is one of the most popular sayings in town. As the saying suggests, Ithaca is surrounded by wildlife, waterfalls, gorges, and state parks. But the city’s population is around 31,000, and can feel quite small.

Some Cornell fun facts:

  • Cornell is home to over 1,000 student organizations, with program houses and regular residential halls.
  • In 1895, Carolyn Morrison was awarded the first Doctor of Science degree in the United States by Cornell University for her work in Physics
  • Slope Day is a music festival free to students with artists like Chance the Rapper, Steve Aoki, Drake, Walk the Moon, Snoop Dog, Kanye West coming by to celebrate the end of the semester
  • Cornell Alums invented the Quarter Pounder and the Filet o Fish, and the chicken nugget
  • Once a year, architecture students build a dragon in a day and engineering students build a rival phoenix and they both go up in flames to celebrate the week before finals
  • Notable alums: Bill Nye, RBG, Justin Schmidt, Anthony Fauci
  • One of the largest outdoor education programs with classes like backcountry photography, wilderness first aid, and rock climbing in Costa Rica
  • Carl Sagan’s house and grave are here!

All of these are basic facts you should know about Cornell, but to be able to write this essay, you need to dig deeper. What about Cornell’s unique programs appeals to you? Simply mentioning facts from their website is not enough. Reach out to current students and professors to learn more about what Cornell can offer to you.

Why You?

Most people think “Why Us?” essays are one sided and should only discuss the school. However, try to weave in why you would be a perfect fit at Cornell. This could include teaching others lessons from unique opportunities and experiences you’ve had. Or sharing your unique skills and background with the Cornell community. Be creative and specific with this! But be careful not to just restate your resume.

Basic Structure

Still stuck on how to start your essay? Here’s a basic structure that you can follow and modify to fit your writing style.

Paragraph 1: Thesis and Hook

Although a hook can be optional, you can choose to weave in an anecdote about yourself in the introduction. Afterwards, you should state all the basic points that you will make about why Cornell is the best fit for you and why your major will help you achieve your goals. A tip that is useful is writing your introduction last!

Paragraph 2: Why do you want to pursue your major?

Paragraph 3: Why do you want to pursue your major at Cornell?

Paragraph 4: How will you contribute to Cornell’s community?

Paragraph 5: Conclusion/Restate your thesis. Affirm what you intend to study at Cornell and why you want to do it at Cornell

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to learn about Cornell University and dive into the supplemental essay with confidence. Take this chance to show them who you are and everything you can contribute to Cornell’s community!

If you’d like to read examples of successful college applications—including seeing essays and resumes that got students into Cornell—register a free account with AdmitYogi today!

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